Nikhila Palat, Vivan Bhathena show off gifts they got from ex-president Barack Obama

Updated: 30 November, 2017 11:35 IST | Malavika Sangghvi | Mumbai

Even as charismatic former US Prez Barack Obama embarks on a three-country tour that will see him in India soon, a charming story concerning an earlier trip of his to India as POTUS in 2010, was brought to our notice by communications

even as charismatic former US Prez Barack Obama embarks on a three-country tour that will see him in India soon, a charming story concerning an earlier trip of his to India as POTUS in 2010, was brought to our notice by communications consultant Nikhila Palat, who had been a senior executive at the hotel he was staying in. It concerned a box of M&Ms, a bottle of bubbly, a brief but exhilarating meeting with Obama and a dishy Bollywood actor with a sweet tooth.

Nikhila Palat and Vivan Bhathena
Nikhila Palat and Vivan Bhathena

"He had this unbelievable quality of giving you his undivided attention when he speaks to you and even a few minutes spent with him leave a lasting impression," says Palat, who had the privilege of spending five minutes in the lobby of the hotel with the then most powerful man in the world, while he was bidding goodbye to the hotel's team and presenting each with a box of the official US White House M&M candies, especially created in red, white and blue.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

"Before parting, the President had enquired whether I was married and when I said I had recently got married, he promised to send something for my husband," she recalls, adding, "I thought he would forget, but I was delighted to return to my desk later that day and find an official White House champagne for Vivan. I swore to safeguard these mementos all my life."

The gifts that Obama gave Nikhila
The gifts that Obama gave Nikhila

But that was not to be. Apparently, a day after Palat's husband, Bollywood and TV star, Vivan Bhathena (Judwa and Raja The Great), returned from a long and successful shoot in London, where he was filming 'Hate Story 4', without thinking, he found the carefully preserved 'Obama goodies' and ripped open the box, polishing off the entire set in one sitting."

"Of course I was horrified when I learnt this, as I had been saving this gift with no intention ever to open it, but luckily we still have the champagne beautifully and safely sealed. But Viv got quite the tummy ache afterwards," she chuckles. Just desserts?

Heroes all around
It's been quite a fortnight for Meghna Puri, president of Whistling Woods International Institute for Films, Media, Animation and Media Arts and Subhash Ghai's attractive articulate daughter.

Meghna Puri, Subhash Ghai with Terence Lewis and team at Whistling Woods
Meghna Puri, Subhash Ghai with Terence Lewis and team at Whistling Woods

First there was the announcement of the annual Amitabh Bachchan - Anand Pandit Scholarship for the most deserving student of Whistling Woods International, which had been awarded to budding screenwriter Qismat Bukhari, who she described as "intelligent, charming and with a great sense of humor", and someone she was sure would make the institution proud.

Amitabh Bachchan presenting the award to Qismat Bukhari
Amitabh Bachchan presenting the award to Qismat Bukhari

Bachchan had been present at the award ceremony and if that didn't put extra zing in Puri's step, (a mother of two, she describes WW as her first baby) there was the 35th anniversary of her dad's all time blockbuster 'Hero', which had launched the careers of Jackie Shroff and Meenakshi Sheshadiri, for which a screening at the excelsior had been organised.

"I have very fond memories of 'Hero'. I remember how Meenakshi and Jaggu dada, who were new actors then, had really pampered us kids," she says, adding, "The first time I watched 'Hero' was at a trial at Ajanta Arts, while sitting on the floor with the other kids. Meenakshi had joined us. Some childhood memories are super special just like this one."

Of bechamels and bhartas
"The horror the horror", our Oolong Tea Serving Hostess Friend (OTSHF) was moaning softly when we met her recently. A minion was dabbing her forehead with cold and fragrant presses. "Ma'am has been like this since she came from that dinner," her 'nurse' informed.

Chef Massimo Bottura
Chef Massimo Bottura

Apparently, the OTSHF had been a privileged invitee to the much-awaited dinner prepared by the visiting international super Chef Massimo Bottura last week, and though the food had been 'beyond sublime' (her words), the experience had left her nerves 'jangled' (ditto).

"The horror," she repeated before launching on her tale of woe. "Darling, the food of course was excellent and to die for. But I had the most appalling gent on my table some finance wiz, who insisted on giving a running commentary with the arrival of each new course," she groaned.

"For instance," she shivered, "When the maestro's celebrated braised leeks from Ferrara, with truffles from Bologna, was being served, my fellow diner proclaimed loudly, 'just like our bengan ka bharta no?'" she gasped. "And when they brought his world-famous crunchy lasagna on a hand-chopped vegetarian 'ragu' and airy bechamel, he said, 'chalo bhai, hamara apam aa gaya.'"

How absolutely very traumatic it must have been, we said. Horrific. Of course, you will need to cancel all such dinners for at least one week to recover. At which the OTSHF shot us a filthy look, before ringing her little bell, "Boy, zara hot water laao please."

Date clash
Word comes in that the upcoming visit of a former head of state to the capital later this week, has had some repercussions for an unrelated high profile gathering on the same dates in Delhi. The head of state, it transpires was supposed to be put up at a different five-star hotel, but due to security considerations his choice of hotel had to be changed at the nth hour.

Which meant, the head of state is now staying in the same hotel, which is the venue of a very high-profile wedding, on the same days. And given the security concerns, his security team has asked the wedding hosts to provide details of each and every guest who's attending.

What's more is that the hotel has beefed up its own security and the wedding guests, who are flying in from all over the world, may have to go through additional checks to get in. And given how high profile and powerful they are expected to be, and the fact that many of them might have security details of their own, it's going to make for a fair share of confusion. Oh dear.

Mr Pune
At a swish gathering of fat cats at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, this weekend, which saw a sizeable representation from Pune; one of the discussions, we are informed, had turned to Pune and who could legitimately lay claim to the title of being its first citizen, it's Urban Supremo Numero Uno.

Cyrus Poonawalla, Rahul Bajaj and Anu Aga
Cyrus Poonawalla, Rahul Bajaj and Anu Aga

"The contest was really between the two larger-than-life billionaires, who have done so much for the city and on which their names are writ large," said a garrulous lady, who'd been present at the discussion. "Rahul Bajaj and Cyrus Poonawalla. Bajaj has undoubtedly supported so many institutions and initiatives for the common good for decades. But then again, so has Poonawalla. In fact, today wherever one goes one sees the Poonawalla name mostly. Also, Poonawalla has Pune in his name!" she added.

"But there were also other heavy weights mentioned as contenders. Some said Tulsi Thanti, a real business success story, who has his base there. Baba Kalyani's name came up, though in a different league. The discussion went on and on with many people joining in with their reasons for choosing this one or that," she said. And what was the consensus? "It was that when it came to the first citizen of Pune, Mr Pune himself, the quiet and understated Anu Aga won the vote," she said. Who woulda' thunk...

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First Published: 30 November, 2017 06:00 IST

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